CAN I WEAR YOUR CULTURE ON MY FACE PLEASE?
One of the more absurd ideas that Politically Correct crackpots have come up with is what is called “Cultural Appropriation”. I have read some of this stuff on Medium, the first one having to do with how people decorate their homes. A lot of what I peruse produces in my mind the pleasant and cleansing melody of a toilet flushing, but some of it — as will happen — sticks to the sides of the pot and remains there until further scrubbing eliminates every trace once and for all.
Such was the case with the negativity generated in the disapproving bosom of one such author when she realized that people traveling to distant places (I would say ‘exotic’, but I see that this term also belongs to the category of ‘micro-racism’), sometimes fell under the spell of the local brand of architectural beauty, also admiring various interior designs of the local residents, and then returning home to do up their own pads in the same fashion.
Cultural Appropriation. Shame on them. Apparently, it’s like stealing something that is not yours.
Evidently, these squawking curmudgeons have forgotten the old (and eternally true) adage that “Imitation is the best form of flattery.” For example, when I was a spotty-faced teenage boy hoping to become a writer, my favorites were Jack London, Edgar Allan Poe, Ernest Hemingway, T.S. Eliot, W.B. Yeats, Rainer Rilke, Albert Camus and Franz Kafka. (Yes, all white men — so sorry). As such, I imitated them pitilessly and hoped that no one would notice. (They did.) Finally, I came to my senses and realized that an original ‘Eric Le Roy’ was, in some cosmic sense, better than an imitation Franz Kafka, even if the Le Roy Manuscripts ended up as someone else’s bog roll. Better to be yourself. (There’s an adage or two about that also.)
Nevertheless, I learned my trade from the masters; without them I would have had no model. Nothing to shoot for. That, to paraphrase Faulkner, I had to ‘kill my darlings’ later (by which Faulkner really meant that you have to stop being in love with the sound of your own voice) was merely in the nature of things. The influence and the debt of gratitude remained, and always will, but sooner or later you have to find your own expression, and go with it, whether anyone else wants to hear it or not. That’s the chance you must take.
So. if I may be permitted an attempt to explain this ‘cultural appropriation’ idea from the point of view of those who espouse it, the idea would go something like this.
(1) Driven by an impulse that is both entrepreneurial and opportunistic, you see something that no one else has exploited, but which has definite commercial possibilities. And you make a killing out of it. (Secret clue: this is how white men have built empires.) There is no finer example of the way it works than Elvis Presley. I have no idea what Elvis himself was thinking (probably not much), but the sharks of the (white) music industry saw the blazing lights of possibility the moment The Pelvis started gyrating. “God DAMN !” they cried. “Look at THAT ! Just like a N — — — ! But he’s WHITE ! Shit, Elmer, there might be some MONEY in THIS !!” And there was.
(2) Bubba the Swamp Rat goes to North Carolina on a vacation because he’s heard that the Indians (he doesn’t know about Native Americans) have casinos there and he can try his luck on the slot machines and, hell, maybe even find himself a squaw for the weekend. So he has ‘hisself’ a good ole time (finds some moonshine “up thur in the hills”), and on his way out he decides to buy a big rainbow-colored (except he doesn’t understand what a rainbow means nowadays) Indian head-dress and, by gum, PUTS IT ON ! When he gets back to Loooziana, he shows it off to the other Bubbas, slaps his hand on and off his mouth while making sounds like Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa-Wa, just like a real Injun would do, and to cap it off he does a little rain dance, ending with his very own patriotic “YEEEEEEE HAWWWWW !” — until he tumbles drunkenly on his ass.
OK, I get it. Cultural Appropriation both times.
But, in a broader sense, I believe that there is another side to the story. To start with, one of the main anthems of the Politically Correct is cultural diversity. If I understand correctly, we should therefore embrace all differences in race, ethnicity, and culture, including every conceivable gender variation. And I am all for that. If I weren’t, it would have made no sense for me to travel the world and live in other countries the way I have. I can also faithfully report that in every one of these scenarios — without exception — I have picked up some of the local habits, taken part in the customs, learned something about the language (and, more precisely, the speech patterns), the preferred style of dress, food and drink the locals normally choose to consume, attitudes toward the world beyond their borders (including, inevitably, toward Americans), and, simply, their predominant body language. For example, in Moscow (Russians do not stand in lines, or ‘queues’), there is a definite way to ride the metro and the city buses as well as a way not to, if you don’t want to piss people off.
When I first went to England in 1970, I learned right quick that it wasn’t America. Which was great, because something NOT American was what I wanted. So I started putting milk in my tea and rolling my own cigarettes, and saying things like ‘’Bloody ‘ell !” and “Give us a pint then, Luv “ and calling guys “wankers’ if I didn’t like them. I developed a passion for ‘soccer’, except there it was called ‘football’, which actually made sense because, unlike American football, it is mostly played with the FEET. Guys became ‘blokes’ and my buddies became my ‘mates.’ A ‘fag’ was a slang word for a cigarette. I smoked a lot of fags but not in the carnal sense, because, to this day, all I know is ‘hetro’. (Had I felt any inclination to ‘take a walk on the wild side”, I would have without hesitation.)
When I went ‘home’ to America for the summer after my first year at the University of Bath, I had misappropriated so much of English culture (and a little of the Irish as well) that when I landed in Florida a lot of the beach bunnies actually thought I was English — a misconception which I did not attempt to rectify — and a happy knock-on from this was that I got laid several times by American girls who just wanted to fuck an English guy to see what it was like. “See? We can do it just as bloody well as the sodding Yanks !” I would croon afterwards — to which they would coo their hearty agreement. If they had known that I was really Eric the Americk, I would have been tossed out the door and tossing my pudding into the kitchen sink when I got home, most likely. Thank God for Cultural Appropriation.
I did it because I loved England. I wanted to become a part of what they had, and to make it my own. Did I succeed? Well, I certainly reached a comfort zone. Having learned English and/or British ‘chat’, I mixed well. I learned not to say the awkward, often stupid things than an American would say. But…I repeat the question: Did I succeed (in being English) ? And the answer is NO. Not at all, even though probably I couldn’t see it then. To them, I was always The American. They liked me, most of them — I’m pretty sure — but I was never one of them. This was pointed out to me once or twice in angry confrontations over shit that had nothing to do with being a Yank or a Brit. But all of a sudden I would become “that fucking American” or “that American bastard” again. Thanks, lads, good to get that ‘lernt’.
In St. Augustine, Florida, someone came up with the bright idea of dismantling a real English pub stone by stone, block by block, transporting it to Florida, and reassembling it. Thus, presto, there was “The King’s Head” right on the outskirts of town, fully stocked with English beer, Irish Guinness, West Country cider, optics for the spirits (booze) and all the rest. The ‘landlord and lady’ were English and from somewhere they managed to round up an English ‘barmaid.’ A Union Jack was thrown in the corner and the place was set to go. Grand opening.
The only problem, it soon became apparent, was that the clientele was 90% American. The result was simply this: it was not an English pub; it was an American bar. Or tavern, if you will. That is because it was not possible to carry the English spirit across the sea. If you have ever been in a proper English pub (not some inner London monstrosity or one of those fucked up ‘gastro pubs’), but a real dyed-in-the-wool English pub, you will have realized that the feeling there is unique and it can not be duplicated in Hamburg, Tokyo, or St. Augustine, Florida.
And that’s the problem with ‘appropriating’ other cultures. It’s never the real deal when done by a wanna-be or an outright impostor. That doesn’t mean it’s inherently evil. It means that Chinese food in America does not taste like it does in China, nor does American pizza make the grade with Italians. Taco Bell ? Get outta here. But that DOESN’T signify, for Christ’s sake, that anyone is trying to insult anybody. It doesn’t mean that the grub in an American-style Chinese, all-you-can-eat buffet is an insult to the Chinese, nor that it tastes like shit. It simply means it is derivative. You can blame this on mass culture if you like. but the reality is that the average American is not going to eat authentic Chinese or Mexican food on a daily, drive-thru basis; he/she wants a generic, watered-down version; otherwise, it won’t sell.
But that’s multiculturalism for you, take it or leave it. As we out here in the Rest of the World know, the Americans are everywhere. Fast Food American ‘restaurants’ are more numerous than ticks on a village dog. American TV shows saturate the air waves. And — to my chagrin — no matter what cafe, coffee shop, eatery or fitness center I go to — be it in Italy, Germany, Russia, or even Bulgaria, it is IMPOSSIBLE to escape this SUCKING, FUCKING awful American/British muzak that they INSIST on piping in, usually at top volume as if the whole purpose is to drive you insane — especially since this junk has been out there since the 1980’s, and you hated it the first time you heard it.
It’s the same with English language. I am happy earning my living giving English lessons because the world currently wants/needs to learn English. If not for that, I’d be stuck in a stall somewhere, selling donor kebabs to the street people. But, predictably, English language has permeated the native languages also, often replacing the native tongue with English-isms. For example, the Italian ‘fine settimana’, is now just expressed as ‘weekend.’ Even in Russia, ‘выходные’ is now frequently pronounced as…’weekend’. In German, they don’t say ‘Wochenende’, they say…well, goddammit, ‘weekend.’ And so on. But in English, we have feasted on beautiful foreign words and phrases such as ‘Schadenfreude’, ‘Weltschmerz’, ‘Wunderkind’, ‘coup de grace’, ‘esprit du corps’, ‘Ciao’ (Chow — sounds like army food), and ‘OK’ (originally African, so I’m told.) And always, the glorious and all-defining “FUCK YOU” — which, as all the finer things aspire to — has become absolutely universal.
Bottom line: if — as the self-anointed makers of the super new world avowedly want it to be — we are going to become truly multicultural, IF the world is going to become this wonderful smorgasboard, this open bazaar, of enriching new experiences, then the founders of this super new all-encompassing society need to stop bitching and complaining just because some guy who has visited Mexico decides it would be cool to wear a sombrero now and then. Maybe, just MAYBE, the dude is not trying to pilfer the other guy’s culture, maybe, HE JUST LIKES SOMBREROS. Maybe he wants to try on one of those furry Russian hats and walk around trying to balance it on his head in the Moscow wind. Maybe he has DISCOVERED something and HE LIKES IT !! Possible?
The only conceivable objection to such a harmless display of discovery and enthusiasm would be if, by wearing the sombrero or the Russian fut hat (or a T-shirt with the old Soviet hammer-and-sickle), he was trying to mock or make fun of the other culture. And I rather doubt that this would be the reason. When I was in Italy and I bought a maglietta (T-shirt) with “Buffon” or “Totti” (footballers) or the ‘Gli Azzurri’ (the national team), was I trying to insult the Italians? Don’t be silly. Did it make me Italian, as if I had done a magic trick? NO ! They said, “Bene, ecco l’americano che indossa una maglietta italiana !”
It was all for fun, done in the name of fun, and it WAS fun.
Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas is one great appropriation of the culture of ancient Rome. Do you think that Marc Antony is spinning in his grave? I doubt it. He wouldn’t have known what in the hell plastic was.
And as for Elvis, sure, he and his advisers and producers were exploiting Black music and black culture. They bottled black music, poured the essential drop of milk into the container, and it sold like hotcakes. I don’t blame the great black artists who had to ride around in buses during the Jim Crow era for being pissed off. But you know what, it wasn’t long before MoTown hit the scene and the white folks went nuts over it . A transformation had occurred. It started being cool to be black, and now the train stops at every station. The last time I was at Wal-Mart (long time ago), I saw a white boy with his trousers slid halfway down his ass, treating the world to a view of his not-so-nice underwear. He didn’t learn it from his daddy. Maybe in prison.
And what about the interracial and inter-cultural marriages which take place all over the world and the new shades of babies these unions produce? Everybody knows that black and whites produce golden babies. Deybe sumpin wrong wi’ dat?” I DON’T THINK SO.
In America, white teenagers imitate blacks all the time. Dress, speech, and music. Maybe dreadlocks too? If a black girl wants to process (straighten) her hair (Sugar Ray Robinson, the greatest fighter who ever lived did it to his), there is a Problem with that? Why can’t it just be a CHOICE ?
Why can’t it just be a celebration of each other, a way of confirming that we are actually LEARNING something from each other, instead of representing yet another of these fucking, stupid-ass INSULTS that the PCers keep seeing in their sleep?
Because, Thought Nazis, you can’t have it both ways. We either live in a multicultural world or we don’t.
Come to think of it, even though I live in Bulgaria, just writing on this topic has made me crave some SOUL FOOD. So today I’m gonna teach my Siberian wife how to fry chicken just the way my long lost black squeeze Cynthia McBride’s momma used to.do it. I’’m lickin’ my chops, y’all, gittin’ ready to appropriate some o dat ole Black Magic. Yo !!!!
See ya at the jook.